Brighter than the Sun (KGI #11) by Maya Banks (audiobook) – Narrated by Tad Branson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The Kelly Group International (KGI): A super-elite, top secret family run business.

Qualifications: High intelligence, rock-hard body, military background.

Mission: Hostage/kidnap victim recovery. Intelligence gathering.

Handling jobs the US government can’t.

As the last unattached member of the Kelly clan, Joe is more than ready to risk life and limb on any mission he’s assigned to, but when it comes to love, he’ll keep his distance. He’s content to watch his brothers become thoroughly domesticated.

Zoe’s had nothing but heartbreak in her life, and she’s determined to start over with a completely new identity thanks to her college friend Rusty Kelly. But it’s the gorgeous smile and tender words of Joe Kelly that begin to weaken her resolve to never risk her heart again. And Joe will have to put everything on the line to save Zoe when secrets of her past resurface – and threaten to tear them apart.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – D

This eleventh book in Maya Banks’ KGI series of romantic suspense novels, Brighter than the Sun, would have been more appropriately titled Duller than the Dishwater. Honestly, I’m really glad I managed to listen to most of it while I was on the move, either around the house or in the car, otherwise I’d be suffering from the concussion incurred as a result of the number of times I’d’ve banged my head on the desk to keep myself awake.

I can’t believe this is supposed to be a romantic suspense novel. It’s a total misnomer, because it doesn’t possess much of either; the pacing is snail-like and there is NO action worth the name, NO suspense and NO romance, unless you count insta-lust as romance. And I don’t.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Only a Mistress Will Do (House of Pleasure #3) by Jenna Jaxon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The man of her dreams . . . belongs to another woman.

Destitute and without friends, Violet Carlton is forced to seek employment at the House of Pleasure in London. She steels herself for her first customer and is shocked when the man rescues her instead of ravishing her. A grateful Violet cannot help but admire the handsome Viscount Trevor. But she must curb her desire for the dashing nobleman she can never have because he is already betrothed to another . . .

Tristan had gone to the House of Pleasure for a last bit of fun before he became a faithful married man. But when he recognizes the woman in his bed, he becomes determined to save her instead. Now, his heart wars with his head as he falls for the vulnerable courtesan. Unable to break his betrothal without a scandal, Tris resolves to find Violet proper employment or a husband of her own. Still, his arms ache for Violet, urging him to abandon propriety and sacrifice everything to be with the woman he loves. . .

Rating: D+

It can be tempting, when you read hundreds of books a year, to confine yourself to picking up titles by authors whose work you know you are going to enjoy. But when it comes to reviewing, I make a point of sampling books by some of the newer names in historical romance, and sometimes I’m lucky and I find a new author to add to my ‘’must read’ list. Sadly, however, it’s been my experience that the ‘finds’ are in the minority.

Jenna Jaxon’s Only a Mistress Will Do is most definitely NOT a find; in fact I now wish I’d lost it before I even started. Its overly contrived plot relies heavily on coincidence and consists of one cliché after another; no sooner have our hero and heroine emerged unscathed from one melodramatic development than they are thrust into another. The protagonists are barely two-dimensional, their behaviour is inconsistent and frequently contradictory, and the big reveal before the halfway point is no surprise whatsoever. And worst of all, this is a ‘romance’ in which readers are repeatedly told the hero and heroine love each other but are never shown the relationship progressing. By a quarter of the way through the novel, we’re meant to believe they’re desperately in love, but there is no chemistry and no romantic development; honestly, had I not been reading the book for review, I’d have abandoned it well before the halfway point.

Violet Carlton has been left destitute following the recent death of her grandmother and has reached the point where the only thing of value she has left to sell is herself. Remembering the name of a brothel once mentioned by her deceased brother (who was killed more than a year earlier in a duel) Violet makes her way there and asks the madam to employ her. A lovely, well-bred virgin will fetch a high price, so the woman is quite happy to accommodate Violet, and five days later, she is sent her first client, the man who has bought and paid for her virtue.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

Foolish Bride (Forever Brides #2) by A.S. Fenichel

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sadly ever after . . . unless some dreams really do come true?

Elinor Burkenstock never believed in fairy tales. Sure, she’s always been a fool for love—what woman isn’t? But Elinor knows the difference between fiction and truth. Daydreams and reality. True love and false promises. . . . Until the unthinkable happens, and Elinor’s engagement is suddenly terminated and no one, least of all her fiancé, will tell her why.

Sir Michael Rollins’s war-hero days seem far behind him when, after one last hurrah before his wedding, he gets shot and his injuries leave him in dire shape. He wants nothing more than to marry Elinor, the woman of his wildest dreams. But Elinor’s father forbids it . . . and soon Michael is faced with a desperate choice: Spare Elinor a life with a broken man or risk everything to win her heart—until death do they part?

Rating: D

I’ve seen A.S Fenichel’s name around and am aware of her as an author of historical romance, but haven’t yet got around to reading any of her books, so I nabbed a copy Foolish Bride to see if I might find myself another new(ish) author to trust. But, and to quote Han Solo – “Sometimes, I amaze even myself” with my foolish optimism, because, dear reader, this is a book even a Wookie wouldn’t touch at the end of a ten-foot pole.

The plot is tissue-paper thin, the two central characters are immature, woefully underdeveloped and not at all engaging and the writing is unsophisticated and wooden as well as being far too modern in tone and littered with errors and historical inaccuracies. But before I get to those, here’s the woefully flimsy plot. Sir Michael Rollins and his fiancée, Lady Elinor Burkenstock (which makes me think of shoes), are engaged to be married and their big day is almost upon them. But although he is a knight, Michael is pockets to let, thanks to the irresponsibility of his predecessors and he insists that he must be ‘worthy’ of Elinor before he can marry her. She’s not badly off – her father has recently been granted an earldom – but Michael is proud and doesn’t want to live off his wife. However, he has one last job he must do – which she thinks is to do with commerce, but it quickly becomes clear he’s a spy – and urges her to be patient for the next month while he is away.

Sadly, their reunion is destined not to be, when, a month later, Elinor’s father tells her he’s calling off the wedding. He won’t tell her why, leaving it to her mother to explain that it’s because Michael can no longer give her children. It seems he has sustained an injury of some sort – which is never disclosed, but surely he wasn’t shot in the nads? – which has rendered him impotent. I couldn’t help asking – as, to her credit, did Elinor – how anyone could possibly know such a thing, but there you go; Michael is not prepared to saddle the woman he loves with a man who is no longer whole. They part in anger – but can’t forget each other. And as a side note, we never find out if that final mission made him ‘worthy’ of Elinor or not.

Then the Duke of Middleton (whose first name is Preston – and I’m sorry but all I see is the cyberdog from Wallace and Gromit) starts to take an interest in Elinor – to her mother’s delight – but even though he’s kind, handsome and very personable, Elinor is still in love with Michael. Yet she thinks she might have to marry Middleton after all, because she’s got to marry someone and it’ll get her mother off her case. But – hang on – Michael is a duke now, so surely she can marry him and keep her parents happy? But no. Michael determined not to approach Elinor until he knows if his wedding tackle will ever work again, and she is determined to keep her distance because he’s been such a dickhead to her.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

Bold Angel by Kat Martin (audiobook) – Narrated by Lucy Rayner

bold-angel

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

They were enemies in a divided land…

Saxon beauty Caryn of Ivesham longed to escape the chill gray cloisters of the convent to which she’d fled – but not in marriage to the towering, feared Raolfe de Gere, the Norman knight they called Ral the Relentless. Even though he had once saved her from a fate worse than death, she could not forget he’d raised the grim battlements of Braxston keep on her dead father’s lands or that his men had dishonoured her sister. If she wed him to bring peace to her people, he would have to lay siege to her bed. But their destiny was more powerful than the clash of swords. The darkly handsome warlord’s blood coursed with desire for Caryn’s burnished crimson lips, and his passion would not be denied. But in the wild ecstasy they shared Ral feared more than his heart was in danger. Could his rebellious bride be a traitor deadlier than the wolves and brigands prowling deep in English forests?

Rating: Narration – C; Content – D

I suppose I should have known what I was letting myself in for when I read the title and synopsis of Bold Angel:

“Saxon beauty Caryn of Ivesham longed to escape the chill gray cloisters of the convent to which she’d fled-but not in marriage to the towering, feared Raolfe de Gere, the Norman knight they called Ral the Relentless.”

It goes on to tell how the

“darkly handsome warlord’s blood coursed with desire for Caryn’s burnished crimson lips”

… yeah, I should probably have moved on at that point, but I had decided I wanted to listen to Lucy Rayner, who has been listed as the narrator of several Julia Quinn romances being released in December (Splendid, Dancing at Midnight and Minx), in order to get an idea of her abilities and performance style.

The result is a mixed bag. It probably didn’t help that the story is unoriginal and the heroine made me want to wring her neck for pretty much the entire (seemingly interminable) fourteen hours and forty minutes of the audiobook. And I couldn’t help thinking that Ms. Rayner’s crystal-clear tones – while not unpleasant – are rather too bright for a romance. I kept expecting her to shout “jolly hockey sticks!” à la Joyce Grenfell whenever things got heated, difficult or angsty.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Untouchable Earl (Fallen Ladies #2) by Amy Sandas

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

He’s a reclusive Earl with a painful secret that’s kept him from knowing a lover’s touch. She’s a sheltered debutante tired of living by society’s rules. But when she’s forced from the ballroom to the brothel, Lily discovers the dark thrill of falling from grace…and into the arms of a man who could destroy her as easily as he saved her.

Lily Chadwick has spent her life playing the respectable debutante. But when an unscrupulous moneylender snatches her off the street and puts her up for auction at a pleasure house, she finds herself in the possession of a man who fills her with breathless terror and impossible yearning.

Though the Earl of Harte claimed Lily with the highest bid, he hides a painful secret―one that has kept him from knowing the pleasure of a lover’s touch. Even the barest brush of skin brings him physical pain, and he’s spent his life keeping the world at arm’s length. But there’s something about Lily that maddens him, bewitches him, compels him…and drives him toward the one woman brave and kind enough to heal his troubled heart.

Rating: D+

The character – usually the hero – who, for some reason is touch averse (doesn’t like being touched, touching others or both) is not uncommon in historical romance, although I have yet to see that particular plotline played out convincingly.  Most recently, the hero of Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman had a history that fully explained his dislike of being touched and his reasons for not wanting to touch the heroine, but even so, his problem was solved reasonably easily once he fell in love.  Lazarus, Lord Caire, in Elizabeth Hoyt’s first Maiden Lane book, Wicked Intentions had a similar problem that was also solved rather too conveniently once he’d met and fallen for his heroine.

Avenell Slade, Earl of Harte (and when will authors learn that those sorts of names for men in Regency England are too way out to be believeable? Plus the idea of the heroine panting “Avenell, do it to me Avenell!” in bed is just too ridiculous!) has reached the age of twenty-four without having experienced the touch of another person that didn’t hurt him.  But he realises he isn’t going to be able to live his life without at the very least being able to stop himself flinching every time someone touches him, even accidentally.  I admired him for the fact that he had the sense to realise he couldn’t go on like that, and for deciding he needed to seek a solution. He therefore heads to a discreet, high-class  brothel, and confesses his problem to the madam, explaining that he needs to learn how to at least bear the touch of another person.  He’s a virgin (obviously, given his condition), but at this point, having sex is the least of his worries.  He does, however, also want to learn about pleasure and how to give it – and naturally a brothel is going to be able to help with that 😉

Given this set up, I thought that perhaps I was going to be reading  a story in which – at last – the hero’s touch aversion was going to be realistically dealt with and solved… but alas, I was disappointed, and here was yet another instance of the hero’s being miraculously cured by the touch of the Right Woman.

The three Chadwick sisters are struggling to keep afloat financially following their father’s death.  That nice man left them with a massive gambling debt, and in the previous book, Luck Is No Lady, we met the eldest sister, Emma, who had a plan to pay off the debt and get them out of trouble.  As The Untouchable Earl takes place concurrently with the first book, that plan has not yet succeeded, so the bad guys are still out to get their money.  Readers may recall that the man who is owed the debt – one Mason Hale – was presented as a bad-guy-with-a-heart (sort of) as he needs the money in order to pay off the opium-addicted mother of his daughter to bring the girl to him so he can care for her.  I assume the author means the reader to feel conflicted about this character, and I did – but I’m not really sure where she’s going with it.

Anyway.  Our heroine in this book is the middle Chadwick sister, Lily and from the minute she sets  eyes on the gorgeous but dangerously aloof Earl of Harte at a ball, she’s immediately drowning in a sea of insta-lust and the reader is treated to lots of descriptions of tingling skin and fluttering bellies and hitching breath and all that stuff.  Lily regards herself as the boring sister – and I can’t say that I disagree with her assessment, as her life seems to consist of reading naughty books and dreaming about being one of the heroines therein and not much else.

Soon after the first meeting of eyes across a crowded ballroom, Lily is kidnapped by Hale and taken to the very brothel at which Avenell had sought help, where she is drugged and put up for auction.  Naturally, Avenell is there, and naturally he is the highest bidder.

It’s obvious where this is going, but the story ends up being little more than a string of lengthy love scenes that are not terribly sexy and are full of those same flutterings and tinglings and sparks and hot breathiness and honestly, I got fed up after the first couple and started skim reading them, which is never a good sign.

The writing throughout is decent, but there is no character development, both principals are little more than one dimensional and there is no sense of any emotional connection or chemistry between them.  Avenell had the potential to be an interesting hero, but Lily is one of the blandest heroines I’ve come across in ages.  I’ve read some lately who have irritated the crap out of me, but Lily is just… meh.  I also couldn’t buy the idea that a gently-born young woman would so easily suggest becoming a man’s mistress at a time when a woman’s reputation was everything and once lost could never be mended.  And once they do start making the beast with two backs, there is no mention of possible pregnancy or attempt at preventing it.

I normally try to avoid giving spoilers in my reviews, but I think the reason for Avenell’s issues with being touched need to be mentioned here, as it’s such an integral part of the story.  We’re told that as a child he suffered a serious and lingering illness that left him with some sort of nerve damage in the upper part of his body, so that anything that touches him on those parts of his body causes him pain.  It’s a sad story, because as a result of his reluctance to be touched, those who were supposed to be caring for him believed him to be wayward and attention seeking and dismissed him and his suffering.  But of course, right at the end, Avenell is Cured by the Love of a Good Woman, and in the last few pages learns that his issues are mostly psychosomatic because he got so used to the pain that he expected to feel it, and so he did.

I rolled my eyes so hard…

As is obvious, I’m not recommending The Untouchable Earl, which is, ultimately, a rather dull book with flat characters, a lacklustre romance and no storyline to speak of. I will normally give an author a couple of chances to impress me before I give up (unless the first book I read is so utterly dire that I can’t face another one!) – and as this is the second book I have read by Amy Sandas that hasn’t impressed me, I doubt I’ll be trying a third.

The Chevalier (Chateaux and Shadows #3) by Philippa Lodge

the-chevalier

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Emmanuel, Chevalier de Cantière, youngest son of a baron, is happiest raising horses far from his complicated family. When news comes his mother is deathly ill, he races to her side only to find she has apparently recovered and moved on, leaving behind her companion, Catherine.

Catherine de Fouet blends into the background, saving up so she’ll never have to wait on waspish, scheming old ladies like the baronesse again. She has no interest in a resentful gentleman, estranged from his mother, no matter how broad his shoulders or intriguing the wounded soul behind his handsome face. She just needs someone to escort her back to Versailles.

But Catherine is suspected of poisoning the baronesse. She rebuffs a pushy courtier who tries to use blackmail to make her his mistress, and her reputation hangs by a thread.

The chevalier wants more than anything to protect this woman whose prickly exterior hides sweetness and passion. They need his family to help him through court intrigues—almost as much as they need each other.

Rating: D+

The Chevalier is the third book in Ms. Lodge’s Châteaux and Shadows series, which is set in late seventeenth century France at the time of the reign of Louis XIV.  In my review of the previous book, The Honorable Officer, I wrote that I had primarily selected it because there is a dearth of historical romance set in that country and that time period (that is written in English), and noted that while the author did a decent job with the mystery storyline therein, the romance was somewhat wooden and underdeveloped. When The Chevalier was offered for review I decided to try it based once again on my liking for the time and setting and in the hope that perhaps the romance might be stronger and more, well, romantic.

Hélas, I’m about to level the same criticisms at this book as at the last one.

This story takes place around twelve years after the events of the previous book, and our hero is Emmanuel de Cantière, the youngest son of the Baron and Baronesse de Brosse.  We learned in The Honorable Officer that Emmanuel – Manu – is considerably younger than his brothers, and that his relationship with his parents is a difficult and complicated one.  His mother and father are estranged, and the baron removed Manu from his mother’s care when he was twelve or thirteen in order for him to be brought up in an environment more suited to a young man.  This continues to be a source of much resentment between the de Brosses and Manu is still filled with animosity, guilt and other conflicting emotions about both his parents.

Manu now resides at one of his father’s properties in Poitou, where he lives quietly, breeding horses.  An urgent message from his father’s house, telling him that his mother is seriously ill, sees him travelling as quickly as he can in response – but when he arrives, he is astonished to discover that she has recovered and is en route to Paris.  His astonishment turns to fury at the thought that she hadn’t bothered to wait for him and he decides to set out after her – and he is further displeased by the information that he can escort his mother’s companion – who had also fallen ill and has just recovered – back to the Baronesse’s side.

Catherine de Fouet is quiet, unassuming and content to fade into the background until she has put aside enough money from her employment and can afford to return to her home in Normandy. She is not completely recovered when she makes the difficult and uncomfortable journey to Versailles – a journey made worse by Monsieur de Cantière’s bad temper and obvious disdain for her.

After Manu and Catherine arrive and are reunited with the Baronesse, there is a lot of filler involving the various members of the family, their rambunctious offspring, a young man who makes improper advances towards Catherine… and eventually, at well past the half-way point, we come to the poisoning which is mentioned in the book’s blurb. It seems that the Baronesse has been ill, on and off, over the past year, and when she is taken ill again, the doctor declares that she has been poisoned. The blurb also says that Catherine is suspected of poisoning her mistress, but it’s all very low key; there is no investigation, no tension and absolutely no drama about this, even though the Affair of the Poisons, which saw a number of high-profile courtiers arrested on charges of poisoning and witchcraft, was in full swing at the time the book is set. I had hoped for more focus on this aspect of the plot, but it feels as though it’s there as an afterthought and isn’t developed or explored at all.

Something else which isn’t developed or explored is the romance between Catherine and Manu, which just… appears. They spend very little time together on the page, and even less time together alone. There is no sense that these two people are getting to know each other; all we get is Catherine looking at Manu and sighing over the breadth of his shoulders and Manu feeling a touch of lust for his mother’s companion, and then, hey presto! they’re in love. There is zero romantic tension between them and no emotional connection whatsoever.

The previous book in this series benefitted from a solidly written mystery element to the storyline, but without something similar to hold this one together, and without anything resembling strong characterisation, engaging protagonists or a decently written romance, The Chevalier is just a seemingly endless succession of flat, uninteresting scenes between the members of the de Cantière family. I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t and can’t recommend it.

The Trouble with Being Wicked (Naughty Girls #1) by Emma Locke (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

the trouble with being wicked audio
This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

HE PUT HER ON A PEDESTAL
When Celeste Gray arrives in the sleepy village of Brixcombe-on-the-Bay, she thinks she’s one step closer to leaving her notorious past behind. She even suspects the deliciously handsome–if somewhat stuffy–viscount next door is developing a tendre for her. That is, until the day Ashlin Lancester learns she’s not the unassuming spinster she’s pretending to be.

NOW SHE HAS FARTHER TO FALL
After a decade of proving he is nothing like his profligate father, Ash is horrified to have given his heart to a Cyprian. He launches a campaign to prove his attraction is nothing more than a sordid reaction he can’t control. But he soon learns that unlike his father, he can’t find comfort in the arms of just any woman. He needs Celeste. When he takes her as his mistress, he’s still not satisfied, and the many late nights in her arms only make him want more…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – D

I decided to review The Trouble with Being Wicked solely on the strength of narrator Marian Hussey whose work has impressed me in the past. I was also quite intrigued by the book synopsis, which tells of a romance between an ex-courtesan and an uptight, very proper young viscount who is so desperate to put his tragic family history behind him that he has become a complete killjoy and is gradually suffocating his sisters with his over-protectiveness.

Celeste Gray is the most sought after courtesan in London but, at thirty-three, is tired of that life and wants to leave it behind. Having amassed herself a considerable fortune over the past eighteen years, she purchases a cottage in a small village called Brixcombe-on-the-Bay in Devon and travels there with her very pregnant friend, Elizabeth, with a view to making her home there. The cottage’s former owner, Ashlin Lancester, Viscount Trestin, comes over to see how the ladies are settling in and immediately senses that not all is as it seems. I have no idea how, but he determines that Elizabeth is not a respectable married lady and is extremely disgruntled because of the lustful thoughts Celeste inspires. Because of course it’s her fault for being so shaggable, and nothing to do with Ash at all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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